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Daily News Blog

29
Jul

Much Higher Rates of Covid-19 Infection and Death in Farmworkers and Landscapers, May Be Enhanced by Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2020) Farmworkers and landscapers are deemed essential employees during the coronavirus outbreak, but without mandated safety protocols or government assistance, have experienced an explosion in Covid-19 cases. Workers in these industries are primarily Latinx people of color, many of whom are undocumented. According to a report published by the University of California Los Angeles, Latinx Californians aged 50 to 64 have died from the virus at rate five times higher than white people of the same age. The poor working conditions farmworkers and landscapers are subject to already put them at disproportionate risk of pesticide-induced diseases. Alongside other hardships such preexisting health problems, family obligations, cramped housing and transportation, threat of deportation, and communication difficulties, the risks of these essential workers contracting and dying from Covid-19 are compounded exponentially.

The PBS Frontline documentary “Hidden Toll” follows the experiences of many California farmworkers, and how their daily struggle has been exacerbated as a result of the virus. One worker profiled, Sinthia Hernandez, has both diabetes and cancer but must continue to go to work to support her family. “In these times, it’s necessity that makes us work despite the fear we have,” Hernandex told Frontline.

Despite the necessity of farmworkers to put food on the table of countless Americans, apart from voluntary guidelines, which are often not followed, Sinthia and farmworkers like her are provided no meaningful assistance. “They are not giving us the essentials to protect ourselves,” she told reporters.

Companies that hire farmworkers are not even required to tell employees when other farmworkers become sick. The highly contagious nature of coronavirus means that one farmworker falling ill can result in an entire crew getting sick. But there are no avenues available for recourse or restitution. And many who consider reporting their illness are plagued by other concerns.

“They don’t want people to know that they’re here undocumented,” said Max Cuevas, MD, a doctor who runs California farmworker clinic, Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas. “There’s that fear of, ‘I could be gone tomorrow if I am taken away. And what’s going to happen to my family?’ It’s a horrible kind of fear that people learn to live with. You try to assure them, ‘Don’t be afraid of that one right now. Be afraid of the virus.’”

Landscapers in areas like Southern Florida are subject to similar pressures on their health and safety. A piece in the Washington Post followed Guatemalan landscaper Alfredo, who helps maintain some of the wealthiest properties in the Miami area. He continued to work through the initial outbreak, but notes, “By June, we were pretty much all sick, and we brought it back to our families.” His young daughter came down with a critically high fever over 105 degrees, and had to be placed in intensive care.

The Post notes that while Covid-19 cases in Guatemala are low, communities in South Florida have been devastated. In order to get by, many like Alfredo live in overpriced apartments where they may share space with multiple families or up to a dozen other workers. Transportation to and from job sites often requires workers to sit in close quarters with each other, making social distancing impossible.

Rather than improving protections, mandating face coverings and other measures known to reduce viral transmissions, politicians such as Governor Ron Desantis (R-FL) are scapegoating these vital communities. In June, he told reporters that increases in conoravirus in the state was from “overwhelmingly Hispanic farmworkers,” and blamed Democrats for not putting protections in place. Groups swiftly condemned the Governor for his statements. “Months ago, actions should have been taken to prevent this,” Oscar Londoño, executive director of We Count!, told NBC News. “The recent attempts to scapegoat workers who have been sustaining our entire food chain during the pandemic is shameful…[The Governor’s] messaging continues to try to stoke nativism, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment across the state of Florida.”

Pesticide use is an important, yet underreported factor among those already in the throes of several crises. Yet evidence is mounting that threats to the immune and respiratory systems posed by pesticides are likely to make those exposed more susceptible to the coronavirus.

Stand up for those who perform the critical work of bringing food to American’s dinner plates by telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve farmworker protections. Stop the ongoing poisoning of landscapers by sending a letter to your state’s Governor urging them to establish that lawn care pesticide use is not essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

No one should have to endure the hardship that Sinthia Hernandez and Alfredo are experiencing. In addition to taking action above, particularly if you live near an area with agricultural production, get involved in assisting and strengthening local farmworker support organizations in your region.  

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: PBS Frontline, Washington Post, NBC News

 

 

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  • Archives

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